12 Years a Slave: First Impressions

This post cannot be an analysis. I refuse to analyze this film. Anticipating this movie since March when I first watched a preview, I had high expectations for this film. I am one of the individuals that oscillated between repudiation and indifference about the Django Unchained frenzy. For the most part, I was looking for something that will restore a semi honest narrative of the Black experience on the big screen. Let alone, when I discovered the details about a Black British director, then it, the film, really increased my hopes for “Hollywood justice” in the depiction. What I witnessed in this drama far exceeded my expectations, setting a new standard of possibilities and capacity with Black cinema. I want to be more transparent with my expectations. Steven Spielburgs recreation of Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” was phenomenal. Notwithstanding it’s bout of criticism, which extended more than a decade, the movie offered a compelling cascade of scenery, character complexity, drama, and historical context that placed the viewer into that plot. Very few dramas move me in this manner. Mario Van Peebles’ “Panther”, Haile Gerima’s “Sankofa” , and Bill Duke’s “Hoodlum” to name a few. Needless to say I was expecting something to “take me there” in the plot and offer me complex experience, depth in drama, and a convincing visual. Steve McQueen recreation of Solomon Northup’s is the pinnacle of an attempt at honest depiction filming. Based on the book which is a rough 160 pages, the director produced 119 minutes of a compelling and convincing experience that would move the average healthy individual.

imageThe actors were excellent. The array of talent and character development displayed in the cast was astounding. Leading actor Chiwetel Ejiofor could not have done a better job. The brotha was Solomon Northup if we ever witnessed him. Ejiofor was capable of reaching deep dimensions of the character evoking the thinking, pain, persistence, stirring anguish that Northup may have experienced. I have been impressed with Adepuro Oduye ever since “Pariah” and as hard as was to experience her character, to see her elicit the pain and depression of a broken mother required a mature sense of skill. Lupita Nyongo’o, “Patsey”, pulled from her soul that difficult character she had to conjure. The range of complexity around Patsey tapped into a historical dynamic of planter class men and their obsession, domain, and sexual violence with the African woman. She immediately remind me of “Nunu” from the film “Sankofa” played by Alexandra Duah. This was my first time seeing Nyong’o and I look forward to following her career. Majority of the acting was honest, crafted, honed, and very aligned with the directors vision.

As a growing historian, my need to use media and technology to offer historical reflection in a more appealing engaging method is a stimulating challenge. My deepest appreciation with the film rest here. I think McQueen did a magnificent job with recreating visual history. Every human being in American will never be capable of experiencing the harsh violent reality of chattel slavery which the foundation of this country rests upon. In this era of covert white-supremacy, which is becoming more overt again by the day, Hollywood can offer us a glimpse of reality as it was by sensually dramatizing historical narratives of slavery and violent white-supremacy onimage screen. When produced correctly with the right aim in mind. The film is a great attempt at depicting this trauma in the Black experience. 12 Years a Slave is timely. On the heels of national outcry from the Zimmerman trial, America required and needed a link between current intentional institutional racism and it’s source on the plantation. Although I pray that every African American on this soil watch this movie, 12 Years a Slave can and should benefit everyone. The dynamics of the slave institution should never escape the mind and hearts of America, especially Black people. America has a deep seated amnesia, and a large portion of Black folks suffer from historical Alzheimer’s disease. This can be a decent antidote.

12 Years a Slave slightly fanned my enflamed rage. I felt that age old burn, anger, and agitation that most Blacks feel when we become enlighten to the disposition of our people in this nation. Every once in a while a national incident, policy, verdict, or daily harassment from white-minded individuals will take you “there”. If you are awaken enough, you know that “there”. Throughout the film I felt a wide range of emotional responses; anger, pain, depression, despair, suspicion, rage, it was all there. I guaranteed myself that this is healthy. To many of us choose not to the see movies like this because we avoid the emotions and pain that it evoke. Honestly, I think it’s to our best interest that we face these gripping responses and channel the fuel. What ever it brings up is healthy for Black people. Currently, we face a nauseating level of apathy toward our condition and the history of our plight. I promise no analysis so I digress. This has to be a required viewing for every African American in the country. I plan to own this immediately it’s distributed on the DVD. Academia will have a field day with this film. There is so much metaphor, analogies, symbolism, and parallels that can be drawn from this film. Lastly, we can flesh out some deep traumas in the psyche of Blacks today by studying this film. It wouldn’t take a psychologist to observe, but I hope the mental health arena can harness some deep discussion following the lead of Dr. Joy Degruy.

Go see the movie.

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